Friday, September 30, 2005

Police shoot own foot and egg Labour’s face over terror

The police seem hell-bent on embarrassing the government that gave them the extra powers to combat terrorism by using the powers as a convenient way of stopping any civil dissent, no matter how peaceful and obviously non-threatening it may be.

In other words, when they’re too lazy to think of a legitimate reason to detain someone or too mean-spirited to let them proceed, the plods whip out an anti-terror citation.

The stupidity of this was demonstrated in full glare of the media at the most inopportune moment the government could have feared when an 82 year old man was manhandled out of the Labour Party conference in Brighton for shouting “Nonsense!” during a speech by Jack Straw about the decision to invade Iraq. The octogenarian was then barred from re-entering the conference under anti-terror laws. Disgraceful.

Why do I relish the fact that this absurdity was highlighted in the most embarrassing way possible? Well. I have been a victim of it too.

Earlier this year, Peter Tatchell, myself, and a group of our colleagues from OutRage! headed down to Windsor to watch the ‘Royal Wedding’™ procession and to display posters which said “Charles can Marry Twice – We Can’t Marry Once” in protest at the ban on allowing same-sex couples to wed. We were briefly detained under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act despite it being a well known fact that OutRage! is not a violent organisation and that Peter is not a terrorist. They threatened to confiscate our posters and remove us from the area if we tried to display them again. Had it not been for Peter’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the laws of free speech and protest, the might have succeeded in intimidating is into complying.

Of course, all this was recorded by several TV crews who converged on the commotion.

But the question must be asked: If this happened to us, and it happened to an old aged pensioner at a Labour conference, how many other people who didn’t happen to be in shouting distance of a TV camera has this happened to?

Quite apart from the sensible debate to be had about the substance of this legislation, lazy police officers flinging it around like a trump card in a childish board game will do far more damage to the credibility of the government’s anti-terror proposals than any other factor.

Brother will you pay me to sign?

Here’s an interesting titbit of information sent to me by my American friend Brian who lives in Massachusetts and who is following the fight to preserve the equal marriage rights for gay and straight people in that State. It’s from the KnowThyNeighbor blog.

It seems that the Right-wingers are bussing in unemployed people from out of state, sending them off to shopping malls and paying them $1 per signature to get antigay initiatives onto the ballot.

Even more cynically, they’re doubling up. First they stop a member of the public and ask them to sign a seemingly innocuous petition to allow alcohol to be sold in supermarkets (hardly a Right-wing priority, which is why it is all the more dishonest), then, while the person has the pen in hand they ask them to sign a second ballot petition in support of “traditional marriage”.

The company that employs these out-of-state folk is itself an out-of-state company. This begs the question: who is behind trying to scuttle equal civil rights in Massachusetts?

For the full story, see: Government BUY the People.

The blog is a compendium of interesting information about the battle over marriage. For example, in another story, they reveal that a Catholic priest was removed for speaking out against the right-wingers initiative.

"The priests of this parish do not feel that they can support this amendment. They do not see any value to it and they see it as an attack upon certain people in our parish, namely those who are gay."

His superiors didn’t agree. According to a report in the Boston Globe, the priest’s "hands were slapped very publicly".

Sunday, September 25, 2005

We survived with a helluva lot of pain

I was very pleased to find a special edition double-disc edition of the two James WhaleFrankenstein’ movies on sale at HMV yesterday, and would have watched at least one of them last night had my boyfriend not found another ‘is-he-or-isn’t-he-a-monster?’ movie (not on sale) instead.

We were quite excited to find the movie about the South African bank robber, André Stander, which we’ve wanted to see for some time. There aren’t that many international films made in or about South Africa, and when they are, they’re generally about the big ‘A’ – which is quite annoying. That isn’t to downplay the enormity if the big ‘A’ or its symbolic significance to the world. But imagine if the only films depicting America were ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and ‘Mississippi Burning’. So I hope you see where I’m coming from.

Before I continue, let me get something off my chest. If the world is going to use our national catastrophe, our shameful contribution to the world’s political lexicon, please at least learn to say it right. The big ‘A’ is not pronounced ay-pard-hide, it is uh-part-hate. ApartHATE.

And perhaps now would be a good time to mention that ‘Stander’ is pronounced stun-duh to rhyme with wonder, not gander. Yes indeedio, this is the first thing (for there are three) we South Africans worry about when watching a film about our country – will the US and UK actors drafted in over the locals manage the accent. Well, that should be plural. There are 11 official languages in South Africa before we even get started on the regional differences.

True, Hollywood thinks that the British only have 2 accents – Michael Caine or Hugh Grant, and of course a third that will do for either Scottish or Irish… but I digress.

So far the two best impersonations of South African accents have been Ian McKellen’s in ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ (though to be honest, McKellen’s natural accent sounds a bit South African) and Arabella Weir’s deranged cosmetic rep in ‘The Fast Show’. Don’t get me started on Val Kilmer’s in ‘The Saint’, though to be fair, he did base it on my artist friend Bowen Boshier – whose voice is, shall we say, atypical… as if Anthony Hopkins had studied Gerry Garcia to play Richard Nixon… but once again, I digress.

American Tom Jane did a marvellous job in the title role. Okay, he struggled here and there with an Afrikaans word or name, but very convincing generally. Londoner Dexter Fletcher who played gang member Lee McCall did a pretty good job too, especially since as a Londoner he had to play a South African attempting to pass himself of as Australian for a part of the movie. David O’Hara from Glasgow as Alan Heyl, Stander’s No 2, wasn’t that good in the accent department. The rest of the case was made up of local talent, and it was quite fun to spot the everyone-who-is-anybody in South African film playing Bank Manger #2, Commissioner of Police or Man in Shebeen.

Oh dear, with all this stream of consciousness musing, I’ve forgotten to tell you what the movie is about. In a nutshell, white police captain André Stander is badly affected after shooting an unarmed man during a demonstration in a black township. He realises that the police seem more geared towards suppressing growing black anger at the injustices of Apartheid rather than on solving crime. His growing disillusionment with his role is all of this leads him to act out one day and rob a bank. It seems he wanted to test his theory that a white person good get away with anything because the police were too involved in suppressing township protests. He gets away with it, and tries another, and then another. Eventually he is caught and sent to prison, but escapes with two friends he’s made while inside – McCall and Heyl. They form a gang and embark on a crime spree that had the authorities baffled for years, becoming sort of folk heroes. But I won’t give everything away because I think you should see this movie.

The second thing is Apartheid. Will it be a caricature or will it be realistically depicted? Often the half-century is condensed into the few weeks covered by the story. The real thing was often tragically mundane, as the machinery of oppression often is. As shocking as violent confrontations like the 1976 riots depicted at the start of the movie were, Apartheid was actually in the details – in the nuances of daily life between the “big” events – like the “non-white queue here” sign in the bank, like the casualness of racist language in idle conversation.

It is easy to forget that amidst this all, people – both black and white – had lives, had jobs, fell in love, brought up children, had a favourite brand of toothpaste… the story of South Africans isn’t just about this one thing, although ‘The Big A’ is the bone that contains the marrow of our lives and the meat of our stories.

The lyrics of a Jennifer Ferguson song come to mind. “Letters to Dickie’ tells the story of a women writing to her fiancé who is in the army doing his national service. It really sums up how the routine and the monstrous combine to form the mundane realities of our lives – ordinary people in an extraordinary place which – for us – was still ordinary.

Dickie baby, your mother and me,
We’ve been shopping for a white dress for our wedding
and now we’ve got a colour TV
They say some terrible things are happening in the townships
I’m glad that you’re not there
There are bombs going off in the dustbins here in Jo’burg
I’m feeling so scared and alone, Dicky Baby.

I hope I remembered that right. I haven’t played that LP in a while. Not since I became ‘British’ and started fighting different battles. Jennifer, by the way, became an ANC MP later on.

The first time Apartheid affected me in a personal way was mundane. I suppose it is obvious that it had been affecting me my whole life – but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about the retrospective weirdness of going to an all-white school in an all-white area, or being brought up by a black woman whose Anglicised name was not her own or whose last name I never learned. No, I’m talking about that “oh shit” moment when you realise “this is actually real, this is actually happening”. Liberal universities – like Rhodes, the one I went to - were “multi-racial”. Rhodes is largely residential, being, as it is, squirreled away in a small town. My first friends in my first year there were Graham and Miles. Miles was black and Graham was white. We had a lot of the same classes and we were in the same residence so we hung out a lot. The moment I remember most clearly was when I realised that while we could take the same train home for the holidays, the three of us would not be allowed to travel together. See, a mundane detail. Unlike in the movie, there was no huge historic moment with the news cameras rolling and the smoke and the dogs and the screams and the blood and the death. No, for me, just 18, it was a simple logistic: one of the hundreds or thousands of petty rules that tore our country apart – into separate queues, separate trains and separate lives – for one more decade.

Stander, while acknowledging the huge impact Apartheid had on the South African psyche – on individual South Africans – manages not to grandstand. It manages to make it the backdrop, the mood, the menace, even, but not the story… and that is no mean feat.

And that third thing we look for? I can’t remember. I had some smart-arse idea which I lost along the way. I think it must be this: we look for landmarks. When you grow up with a diet of foreign media – British and American films – the locations seems so exotic. Car chases past Trafalgar Square? Spies using payphones in Liverpool Street Station? These places, iconic places, now too seem mundane as I walk past these spots every other day. So to watch a movie and see the video store in Yeoville, Johannesburg where I hired my first gay movie in the background of a crime caper… once mundane, now seems special.

In Quartz Straat hoor ek ‘n meisie my roep,
daar’s ‘n Hare Krishna wat vra wat ek soek
En ken ek vir Jesus? Vra ‘n man op die stoep,
tussen Hillbrow records en Estoril Books
En dis lank na twaalfuur, en die Hillbrow toring stuur
Sy seine in die nag, sy sein in die nag…

En die ligte gaan aan in die Chelsea Hotel,
en stemme en musiek klink in elke woonstel.
Ons sit in die son, drink wyn,
Ons survive met ‘n helse lot pyn in hierdie land, ja
Kom ons drink op die een wat sy drome oorleef,
op die een wat kry wat hy vra…

Aah, Johnny K

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Yes but, no but, Hizbut

The Guardian was caught giving a column on Islam-related issues to a journalist who was a prominent member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir without requiring him to declare his interests to readers. They say they didn’t know he was a member of HuT and dropped him when he refused to renounce certain of their more unsavoury policies that clashed, they say, with the ethos of the paper.

However, this must have been done with a huge dollop of guilt, because it now seems the paper is compensating by whitewashing this group of clerical fascists whose constitution openly declares their intention to execute apostates.

First they published a pathetic hand-wringing diatribe by Natasha Walter describing Hizb-ut-Tahrir as peaceful and the proposed ban on them as an attack on free speech, and then they published a silly article by some nutcase who claims they saved him from the BNP because he couldn’t “disprove” the Quran. Anyone who falls for that is an idiot.

But I’ll get back to that. What concerns me is that in-between these two pieces appearing, my OutRage! colleague, Peter Tatchell, sent them a letter challenging Walter’s assertion that the groups was “peaceful”. They did not print it, so here it is:

Letters to the Editor
The Guardian

The UK leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir, Jalaluddin Patel, asks: "Has there ever been an instance on campus where our members have broken the law, incited violence or engaged in subversive 'extremist' activities?" (Letters, 20 September).The answer is: yes. During the 1990s, Hizb ut-Tahrir distributed on university campuses, and elsewhere, a leaflet inciting the murder of homosexuals. They subjected me to repeated death threats because I spoke out in defence of gay Muslims who were being abused by members of their organisation.Since this thuggery was exposed, Hizb ut-Tahrir has sought to project a less extreme public image. But I have no doubt that many of its members continue to hold violently homophobic views.

Hizb ut-Tahrir endorses the barbarism of Sharia law, which stipulates the death penalty for gay and lesbian Muslims, apostates, unchaste women and others.

Peter Tatchell
P.O. Box 17816, London. SW14 8WT

What’s more, an investigation into Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s campus activities was commissioned in the mid 1990s by National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education after 71% of calls to a campus hotline to report fascist activity on campus complained about Hizb-ut-Tahrir specifically. The report, written by Peter Purton, revealed that the group is “in equal measure anti-democratic, anti-Semetic, anti-Hindu, anti-feminist and homophobic'. The group's campaigns involve distribution of homophobic material, particularly at gay and lesbian society meetings, and harassment of individuals."

The National Union of Students took the decision to ban them on campuses after numerous complaints of intimidation and harassment from students, including Muslim students.

Yet Walter argues that they are “peaceful” and that banning them would be an attack on free speech. However, allowing groups that intimidate and harass other groups and individuals to operate does not further the cause of free speech; it allows the bullies to shit free speech down!

Still, I am not in favour of a ban by the government. This will not be practical and will simply drive these people underground. It is better to have them vaguely in the open where ordinary decent people can be disgusted by their fascist agenda.

But not wishing them to be banned is a long way from white-washing them and giving them a PR-makeover.

Another article in The Guardian presents the 'debate' about whether HuT deserve to be banned. Their propagandist, Imran Waheed, claims that HuT "are not looking for a Taliban state or one that oppresses women."

But their constitution clearly says:

"Those who are guilty of apostasy (murtadd) from Islam are to be executed according to the rule of apostasy" and "Segregation of the sexes is fundamental, they should not meet together except for a need that the shar’ allows" and "nothing of the women’s body is revealed, apart from her face and hands, and that the clothing is not revealing nor her charms displayed" and "Any [political] party not established on the basis of Islam is prohibited".

Is that Taliban-like and oppressive to women. You decide if Mr Waheed is a liar.

Waheed also said: "The aim was for a caliphate, an Islamic authority, to govern in Muslim countries but the group was not seeking to introduce one into Britain."

However, the official Hizb ut Tahrir website says in the 'Aims' section:

"It also aims to bring back the Islamic guidance for mankind and to lead the Ummah into a struggle with Kufr, its systems and its thoughts so that Islam encapsulates the world. "

Is Britain not of this world, or is Mr Waheed lying again? Why did The Guardian print this drivel if 2 minutes of Googling allowed me to check his claims against the group's stated aims and constitutional proposals?

The second Guardian article is just ridiculous. What’s the story? A person attracted to one extreme and unhinged group falls out with them and joins another similarly extreme and unhinged group. Is The Guardian really suggesting that Hizb-ut-Tahrir - a groups that according to its constitution wants to kill apostates, eliminate gays, subjugate women, oppress non-Muslims and silence political dissent - is the antidote to the BNP?

The balance to lunatic fringe groups is not more outrageous counterweights on the opposite side, but the huge flywheel of common sense, humanity – and sanity – that drives reasonable people of goodwill. That’s where we should be putting our weight. That’s where I’m laying down my burden. That’s where I’m planting my flag.

Hamas wants no peace

Amazing! Israel pulls out of one of the three occupied territories as a show of goodwill that almost tore its society apart. Any reasonable person would have seen the withdrawal from Gaza as a trial run for the eventual withdrawal from the remaining territories and – presuming they had a commitment to lasting peace in the region – would also commit to giving Israel the reassurances it seeks for just such a move.

But oh no, not Hamas. No, their first thought is to ship in truck loads of explosives into Gaza. Then, when through mishandling, one of these trucks blows up killing 26 and injuring 80 of their supporters, do they fess up? Nope. They blame Israel.

But, reports the BBC: The ruling Palestinian Fatah faction said it held Hamas responsible for the explosion at Friday's rally, when a truck carrying gunmen and home-made weapons blew up.

If anyone had any doubt that Hamas intended to cause mischief with these weapons, this fact was confirmed when they fired 21 rockets at Israeli towns from Gaza. Others in Gaza are trying to improve the region and inspire people to build for the future, but Hamas seem only interested in bringing on Armageddon. They are the flip-side of the mad Christian evangelists who want the same outcome.

Not to be left out, Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for firing 10 home-made rockets into Israel on Friday.

It is clear to me that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not interested in peace. They are not fighting for an end to the occupation; they’re fighting for the destruction of Israel. There is massive international support, including by the Israeli Left, for an end to the occupation. However, if Hamas and Islamic Jihad are unable to match goodwill with goodwill, why should Israel believe that pulling out of the other two occupied territories will bring peace and security?

I want to believe that it will, but I’d be lying if I said I was sure it would.

But there’s something else that needs to be unpacked – repeatedly. I say repeatedly because the only way to confront a lie that is repeated and repeated is to do the same with the truth.

Ken Livingstone says he understands Dr Qaradawi’s support for suicide bombing that targets Israeli civilians because while Israel had fighter jets and tanks, the Palestinians "only have their bodies" and no other way to "fight back".

So what’s with the truckloads of weapons and explosives? What’s with the rocket attacks? Only their bodies, Ken? It’s a lie, it’s a lie, it’s a lie! Anyone can see it’s a lie.

Friday, September 23, 2005

How to deal with terrorists

In 1999, a year after leaving shamefully low-paying jobs in academia for moderately more lucrative jobs in New Media consulting in Johannesburg, my boyfriend and I were at last able to afford satellite TV. At this time, international shows like “Jerry Springer” were still a novelty and we’d never seen anything like it. One particularly thrilling Springer show – before we realised that almost all episodes ended in fisticuffs – involved Irv Rubin of the Jewish Defence League (and minders) confronting the Grand Dragon (Dragon? Warlock, Wizard, Pixie, whatever!) of the Ku Klux Klan (and his minions)..

At the time it was nothing more than pantomime and I thought of Rubin as that guy who tried to hit the Klansman with a chair. But years later, it transpired that Rubin had more sinister ambitions. In 2002 he was indicted after an FBI investigation found he and an accomplice been conspiring to bomb a mosque to make some political point which, frankly, I don’t care to understand. It was also meant to be “a wake-up call”, though, again for what we shouldn’t actually give a fuck – bombing mosques is not a legitimate way to make that call. A pipe-bomb is not a tickey-box.

The fact that they never got round to executing their evil action is a minor mitigation.

The founder of the Jewish Defence League, Meir Kahane, left the US to form a political party in Israel. It was banned by the Israeli government for its racist message, and listed by the US State Departments as a terrorist organisation.

Anyway, enough history. The long and the short of it is that Irv Rubin committed suicide (though of course there are the obligatory conspiracy theories) in prison while awaiting trial. His co-defendant, Earl Krugel, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison, reports Al Jazeera.

And deservedly so.

What is interesting is that the country’s most well known anti-Semitism watchdog, the Anti Defamation League, did not seek to justify or explain Rubin’s actions. They did not say that they were understandable given the hostility towards Jewish people in the world and in America. In fact, in a statement, they said the opposite.

They accused the JDL founder of promoting a “gross distortion of the position of Jews in America” and of fear-mongering. They denounced Rubin as having “a long track record of intimidation and bullying tactics” and for engaging in “contemptible activities“. They “applauded” the FBI’s arrest of Rubin on terror charges. They said:

If the current allegations about the JDL are true, ADL abhors and condemns this potential terrorist plot to attack members of the Los Angeles community. This incident is one more example of how organizations expressing hatred often turn to violence. We praise the diligent work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney's Office that led to the arrest. We have full confidence that this case will be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.

They did NOT say:

'We cannot say we pat these misguided boys on the back but we do want to listen to them. They have gone astray so we want to treat them in a way that will set them straight... we want to treat them the way clerics treat their students, the way fathers treat their sons.'

They did NOT dismiss evidence against Rubin and Krugel thus:

"We are in the 21st Century. The cows can be made to look as dancing, the horses can speak like humans, so these things can be doctored or can be produced."

The correct response to terrorists is to denounce them unequivocally, to applaud when the police arrest them and applaud even louder when the courts bring them to justice.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents

Bloggers have made an invaluable contribution to getting information out of repressive countries, often at great personal risk. Bloggers like Mr Behi – who blogs from the Islamic Republic of Iran - provide valuable insights and information into human rights abuses there. The power of online communication is recognised by repressive governments like the one Mr Behi lives under. They use online agent provocateurs to entrap people – like Amir, a young gay man found out to his cost.

The Internet giants Yahoo! and Microsoft have been embroiled in a controversy after it agreed to help Chinese officials censor online information.

But now, The Times reports:

Would-be webloggers living under repressive regimes from China to Iran can now download an online handbook on how to become a successful "cyber-dissident".

Reporters sans frontières have published a Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents which is available for download from their website. They say:

Blogs get people excited. Or else they disturb and worry them. Some people distrust them. Others see them as the vanguard of a new information revolution. Because they allow and encourage ordinary people to speak up, they’re tremendous tools of freedom of expression.
Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure. Only they provide independent news, at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest.

Reporters Without Borders has produced this handbook to help them, with handy tips and technical advice on how to to remain anonymous and to get round censorship, by choosing the most suitable method for each situation. It also explains how to set up and make the most of a blog, to publicise it (getting it picked up efficiently by search-engines) and to establish its credibility through observing basic ethical and journalistic principles.

The Handbook, which is also available to read online, deals with technical issues like setting up and running a blog, and how to ensure anonymity, as well as covering theoretical issues like media ethics and stylistic niceties.

Well worth a read for anyone who writes. According to The Times story:

"Seventy-five cyber-dissidents are currently in prison for trying to post independent news online, some of them serving sentences of more than 10 years."


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Déjà vu

Déjà vu. I almost lost my lunch. I remember the feeling of nausea and outrage very clearly. It was South Africa 1989 and I was in an editorial meeting for a campus news magazine I co-edited. We’d been sent some photographs of the victim of a ‘sjamboking’ – the whipping of a detainee in police custody that left huge open welts on his back. The picture was sickening, and we ran one on the cover and another inside (see below) with our feature story on police brutality. I remember the (guilty) feeling of gratitude that as a white student, it was likely that I’d be handled with a much lighter touch. Though, that might have been false confidence. Still, when I was picked up by “branch” for questioning, I was let off with a stern lecture.

Flash forward. 2005. I had the same feeling yesterday while preparing a story for the OutRage! News Service about Amir, a 22 year old gay Iranian sentenced to 100 lashes and told that he would face the death penalty if the court-appointed doctors found evidence of anal penetration. Amir was fortunate to live to tell his tale. He managed to flee to Turkey with photos of his injuries. He was able to speak to US journalist Doug Ireland about his terrible experiences and about the persecution of gay Iranians.

I found myself having the same guilty feelings. How lucky I am to live in a country where my sexual orientation won’t get me whipped or executed. But the revulsion I now feel is for those of my fellow-citizens who glibly dismiss Amir’s suffering because it is inconvenient to their political agendas. For example, these morons who left comments on Indymedia who think that speaking out for Iranian gays means supporting George Bush’s Middle East policy. What type of person can be so dismissive of people’s suffering?

The truth of the matter is that huge sections of the so-called “Left” secretly hate gays. Complaining about the abuse of gays in Jamaica or Zimbabwe makes us “racists” and “imperialists”; complaining about the treatment of gays in Algeria or Saudi Arabia makes us “Islamophobes”; complaining about the treatment of gays in Palestine makes us “Zionists”; complaining about the attitude of the Catholic Church makes us “militant secularists”; and complaining about the torture and execution of gays in Iran now makes us “pro-Bush”.

We can’t win. We should know our place. We should not introduce all these “shibboleths”. We should be good little faggots and shut the fuck up. If we remain victims, the Left can humour us with platitudes. When we stand up for ourselves, well, then we’re a threat.

Back in 1989 I was fighting against racism, imperialism and injustice. When I saw pictures of a man bleeding from his welts after a whipping by a fascist and brutal State, I felt filled with a righteous rage! I still do. I haven’t changed, but the Left sure has! It is no longer recognisable to me.

Letter to The Guardian

Yesterday I wrote a letter to The Guardian about Iqbal Sacranie’s complaint that Holocaust Memorial Day was too exclusive. They didn’t print it, so here it is.

Has the Muslim Council of Britian had a change of heart? The chair of the MCB, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, writes that Holocaust Memorial Day is "too exclusive" ('Holocaust Memorial day is too exclusive', September 20, 2005). Those of us with longer memories can't forget that the MCB's complaint in 2001 was that HMD was too *inclusive*. They objected to the fact that gay victims of the Nazi death camps were remembered. In a January 2001 press release, the MCB said it had "reservations" about the inclusion of "the so-called gay genocide".

Strangely, on a topic that has generated so many column inches, it seems strange that The Guardian only printed one letter on the subject – from Shami Chakrabarti the Director of Liberty, the civil rights watchdog.

Still, it was an astute observation:

“The new-look Guardian continues to present the state of British political discourse in all its glorious irony. On the day when Polly Toynbee rightly warns of the disastrous counterproductivity of speech offences and internment, Iqbal Sacranie's priority is with the title of Holocaust Memorial Day (Response, September 20),” she says.

Why is he so obsessed? There are some good theories over at Harry’s Place and on Normblog.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The fox in my garden

I feel so incredibly special. I went to the kitchen to make a peanut butter sandwich and spied a fox asleep in the shrubs of my back yard.

It looked so incredibly peaceful. But they start easily, and it must have sensed me staring, because it looked up just as I was about to snap the photo on the left with my little digital camera – wholly inadequate to the task.

It is such an incredibly beautiful animal. I simply cannot understand how anyone could find pleasure in hunting it down for sport. How does anyone take pleasure in killing anything, for that matter?

It's hard to stay anti-war when it means riding a bus with morons

Five years ago, Afghanistan was a feminist paradise. In fact, in women’s circles it was colloquially known as ‘Lesbos’ – as a tribute to the freedom and security women enjoyed in the “golden age” of the Taliban. Okay, you think of gone nuts… so I’d better tell you, this isn’t my view. Read on. Humour me.

One of the problems with having opposed the war against Iraq – purely on practical terms, I hasten to add – is that, unavoidably, one finds oneself in the camp of liars and fools.

Okay, perhaps let’s put that more charitably. Perhaps some of the people over-egging the mix of the antiwar position genuinely believe what they’re saying. Perhaps it isn’t propaganda. Perhaps the delusions are so deep-seated that they imagine they’re making sense. Never put down to malice what can adequately be explained by incompetence, so the saying goes.

Another good saying – which I find myself mulling over more and more – is the line from Paul Simon’s ‘The Boxer’.

All lies and jest ‘til a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

I wouldn’t have noticed this pair or articles if the second one, ‘Stop all the terror! Troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan’ hadn’t been recycled on IndyMedia a few days ago by the Stop the War Coalition. I went of in search of the original document and found another version republished on the LabourNet website, along with another article entitled ‘Baghdad comes to London

Now ‘Bagdad comes to London’ annoys me for two reasons – both connected with introducing facts amid a morass of emotionalism. I say ‘emotionalism’ not because the emotions aren’t very real for the those involved, but because they can’t be very real for the narrator.

He tells this story:

Two weeks earlier, in my English language beginners’ class for refugees, a middle-aged Iraqi student answered her mobile phone. She lives alone in a bed-and-breakfast near Kings Cross. Her husband is dead, killed by Saddam, and her five children live in Baghdad. For the last two years, she has been unsuccessfully trying to get permission from the Home Office for her children to join her in London. When she finished speaking on the phone, she returned to the class in tears. It was her daughter telling her a bomb had gone off that morning in the market in Baghdad – 30 dead so far. She was distraught.

All well and good. But the narrator is a member of the Socialist Worker Party, who seem to have made absolutely no concrete suggestions on how to topple Saddam Hussein, the reason this woman’s husband is dead, and the reason she has sough asylum here in London. It’s good that he volunteers his time to teach English to refugees and asylum seekers, but what was he willing to do to prevent this woman having to flee a tyant in the first place? The SWP seems to think that clenching a defiant fist and shouting solidaity is enough.

Secondly, the story he tells ends with how this women is distraught at a bomb going off in a Baghdad market. Unfortunately, instead of condemning the scoundrels who plant bombs in markets, he instead launches into a diatribe about American bombers flying at 10km. They were not responsible for the market bombing that had upset this woman.

Sure, let’s condemn the way modern US pilots are alienated from their targets. I’m fully behind Roger Waters’s song “The bravery of being out of range” from the Amused To Death album:

Just love those laser guided bombsThey're really great for righting wrongsYou hit the target and win the game From bars 3,000 miles away3,000 miles awayWe play the gameWith the bravery of being out of range

But don’t use the tears of a woman whose friends have been blown up by the so-called “resistance” to rail against US bomber planes. You did nothing to undermine the man who murdered he husband. You refused to criticise those who bombed the market in her hometown. So don’t use her story to rage against the Americans.

The second story by Alison Dellit makes me even more angry.

"The Afghan victims of Bush’s war are even less visible to us.... It is not a good place to be female...”

What? Am I reading this right? It’s the American’s fault that Afghanistan is unsafe for woman? Is this in contrast to the safety, security and freedom of woman under the Taliban? Are you fucking demented?

By all means, lash out at the excesses and incompetence of the US military, denounce their failure to safeguard women’s rights under the new order… but have some fucking respect for the suffering of Afghanistan’s women which had nothing to do with the Americans! If you want a stick to beat the Americans with, choose another one!

One of the fiercest critics of America’s failings in Afgahnistan, the Afghan Women’s Mission notes “the situation of women and girls was extremely dire and that little had changed since the fall of the Taliban”.

Now read that again: “the situation of women and girls was extremely dire and that little had changed since the fall of the Taliban.”

See, there are no suggestions that women are the “hidden victims” of Bush’s war – it laments that little has changed. It means that there is now a potential for change. The crime is that it isn’t being translated into action. It means that we must seize the initiative to put women’s rights onto the agenda. The issue of women’s rights should not, however, be squandered on cynical and pointless propaganda point-scoring against the America’s overthrow of the Taliban.

The problem that people like Alison Dellit have is that campaigning to seize the initiative and use this opportunity to campaign for women’s right’s would be like admitting that women could be beneficiaries of the American occupation. That would undermine their thesis that the overthrow of the Taliban was illegitimate and desirable.

It is disgusting that the Americans aren’t addressing the issues of women’s rights. They must be condemned and held to account for that. But working with them to ensure that these issues begin to be remedied would doubtlessly “legitimate” their presence in the region. So instead, show faux-concern, crocodile tears and theatrical hand wringing for the plight of Afghanistan’s women and blame their oppression on the American occupation.

UPDATE: This is encouraging news:

Women brave tribal elders, warlords to vote
Afghanistan's women move out of the shadows to vote
Afghan women offer electorate moral choice
Afghan polls see women out in large numbers
Afghan women walking towards realization of franchise

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Bush must go! Bush must go now!

No really, he really must. He really does need to go. Here it is in his own hand.

Reuters reports that World leaders are exploring ways to revitalize the United Nations at a summit on Wednesday but their blueprint falls short of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's vision of freedom from want, persecution and war…

But Dubya clearly has other things on his mind. Talk about pissin’ away opportunities, eh?

Okay, okay. Yeah I know, he’s only human and everybody needs to go some time during the say and it’s mean and cruel to point make fun of him just because – like everyone else – he needs to wee-wee. But, if Reuters can, then so can I. So there!

Is it beyond our Ken to admit he's wrong?

Well, I’m glad somebody has come out and said it:

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has come out with a string of fatuous remarks during his unedifying career on the Left of British politics. This is the puerile figure who once claimed that "capitalism has killed more people than Hitler". But for sheer offensive idiocy it is hard to beat his comparison of the hardline Egyptian cleric Yusuf Qaradawi with the beatific Pope John XXIII.

Well, actually, I do think that there is a case to be made against Capitalism. I have nothing against the romantic notion of the mom-and-pop store which through hard work, sweat and blood… well you know the story… but I have no doubt that Mr Livingstone is right that multinational corporations have been responsible for the deaths and suffering of millions. Though, comparisons with Hitler are usually wrong because it is hard to imagine industrial-scale deliberate genocide having any comparison to industry-scale indifference. Perhaps “… more than Stalin” would have been a better comparison – and it would have had the added benefit of directly contrasting Communism and Capitalism in such a way as to deflate the silly communism-baaad/capitalism-gooood binary.

And, actually, I have issues with the Roman Catholic Church too, so I doubt I’d describe any pope as “beatific”.

But, to use what is fast becoming the most common phrase on this blog, I digress.

Where the widget has really slipped of Mr Livingstone’s production line is his insane defence of Dr Qaradawi – in the face of all evidence.

In yesterday’s Telegraph, Livingstone displayed a remarkable talent for dishonest circular justification. He said his view of al-Qaradawi was “no different from an assessment offered by the Foreign Office”. Remarkable! But, as I pointed out recently on the Gay & Lesbian Humanist Association’s blog, the Foreign Office’s report was based on Ken’s! So, he’s citing as justification for his assessment a document the Foreign Office put out using his estimation as justification for their assessment. Bwahahahahaha!

Then Ken said that a criticism was based on information "from translated sources hostile to him". Oh dear. In OutRage!’s well-publicised reply to Ken’s apologia for Qaradawi, it specifically states that “all quotations are taken directly from Dr al-Qaradawi as published on the website that he supervises, They are presented on the website in English, so there can be no question about the accuracy of the translations.”

As if to forestall this obvious rebuttal to his smear, Ken then says that Qaradawi “was also not responsible for everything on the website that operates under his name”. Oh really, then why does IslamOnline say in the “about us” section:

"Our goal is for this site to be worthy of your trust. To reach our goal, a committee of the major scholars throughout the Islamic world, headed by Dr. Yusuf Qardawi [sic], was formed. Its role is to ensure that nothing on this site violates the fixed principles of Islamic law (Shar'ia)."
So that too is rubbish.

Interestingly, in IslamOnline’s comment on the Telegraph story, they note all Livingstone’s apologetics for Qaradawi except this bit about not being responsible for what appears on the site. What can this mean? That it’s rubbish!

This is also rubbish: Livingstone says that Qaradawi’s musings on the death penalty for homosexuality are "a series of questions of a philosophical nature". So was Mein Kampf!!

And more rubbish: As I’ve noted previously, Palestinians do have weapons other than their bodies, and more importantly, they do have targets other than school children.

But that’s the problem with Ken. It doesn’t matter how many times he’s confronted with the evidence, it seems his tactic is just to repeat the lie – over and over again. Hey, the Foreign Office bought it.

But, just when I thought that I’d dealt with everything, something else caught my eye in today’s Telegraph story. Apparently, Ken Livingstone said:

"I will not tolerate companies involved with the Greater London Assembly if they display homophobia."

So why do I have to avoid certain bus routes because I refuse to travel on a Stagecoach bus after their bigoted proprietor Brian Souter poured over ₤500 000 of his profits from that company into campaigning against gay rights? Yet still, half London’s signature red busses are run by his company. Is something going to be done about that?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Muscular Liberalism: And now the T-shirt

If standing firm on issues like women's rights and gay rights makes me a "muscular liberal" then I am proud to be one. While gangly, perished and withered liberals like Madeleine Bunting - who flounder is a quagmire of equivocation and uncertainty about the universality of human rights - need a moral lifejacket, the rest of us have more sartorial options.

The Lock&Load team have come up with some options for Guardian-reading, yet "muscular" liberals to assert their identity. I give you the L&L Autumn Collection:

The range includes four choices of above-the-waste clothing bearing the slogan muscularliberal in a typeface designed to be comfortable to the eye of average Guardian readers like ourselves.

TESCOA - The "Value" T-shirt

For a mere $10 you can get the basic muscularliberal T-shirt. Okay, we have no idea where it's made and whether the fibres are organic from replaceable resources, but hey, it's cheap and we can't worry about everything all the time. It's a bargain. Buy it here.

ORGANIA - The "Organic" T-shirt

Same thing really, only it's made out of organic fibres. So you can wear it with added moral superiority to go with the moral superiority you already have as a muscular liberal. Believe it or not - some people think moral superiority is a bad thing! This one's slightly pricier at $18. Did I say it was made in the USA? Is that a problem? Hope not. Buy it here.

GYMNASIA - The "Sporty" T-shirt

This is a T-shirt is designed to mimic the slightly off-white paper colour of the new Guardian -semi-Tabloid (sorry, Berliner) format. For this conceit, it is a slightly more pricy $16, but it is still cheaper than the Organia - and it looks 'sporty'. This enhances the fact that we muscular liberals aren't confined to armchairs. Buy it here.

CHAVIA - The "Hoodie" Top

Designed to help the muscular liberal who may also be concerned with CCTV in shopping malls (thankfully, L&L is only sold online), or for that 'dangerous' look. You may not be allowed into Bluewater, but on the bright side it'll scare the hell out of Madeleine Bunting when we loiter outside her office waiting to engage her in dialectic. A steal at $26. Buy it here.

At time of writing, the exchange rate was roughly 54p to $1. So in British terms, its a bargain, um, innit?


* Look, even if you don't buy the damn shirt, please do make sure that women's rights, gay rights, the rights of secularists, trade-unionists, political disidents, writers and academics remain a real concern, and not, as Ms Bunting suggests, "an elite squabble". Keep it real!

More stoning, less AIDS

Yes, more stoning, less AIDS – this is the estimation of Syrian Deputy Minister of Religious Endowments, Muhammad Abd Al-Sattar Al-Sayyid. In a programme that aired on Syrian TV a fortnight ago, the deputy minister said:

All the diseases that have to do with sexual organs, mainly AIDS, syphilis, gonorrhoea, and so on... When these diseases appeared, they killed millions. More people were killed by these diseases than by wars. The only reason for this is the straying from the divine way regarding fornication, and when I say fornication - "Do not even approach abomination" – this means fornication, homosexuality, and all the sexual deviation it entails.

In other words, if you have sex outside of marriage or if you gay, it is better that you be stoned to death before you contribute to the spread of AIDS.

By way of (partial) justification, the deputy minister continued:

If you go to the dentist, you are afraid of the toothbrush.

My dentist’s solution to this problem is to use disposable toothbrushes. Admittedly this isn’t quite as dramatic as Mr Al-Sayyid’s solution. Mr Sayyid’s solution is also a blow against the disposable culture of our consumer society, as I’m sure a member of Respect will inevitably point out. Let me hasten to add that I sympathise wholly with the latter point. For a time I was convinced that some corporate cretin would start humming “Eliminate the need for dental surgery” and end up acquiring the rights to Bob Marley’s liberation anthem ‘Redemption Song” for redeployment in toothpaste commercials. After Al-Sayyid’s musings, I now have similar fears for Bob Dylan’s Rainy Day Women #12 And #35.

Typically, I digress, and typically members of the Syrian government overestimate the universality of their opinions:

The entire world, from the US to the most distant country, acknowledges that if they had stoned the fornicators, and prevented abomination, things would have been much better.

Yes, there are many cranks in the US who would stone adulteresses and fornicators and homosexuals, but luckily most of them run inbred family churches rather than setting government policy – and the people providing theological justification for this behaviour aren’t being invited to tea with Ken Livingstone.

HAT TIP: Harry’s Place

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Scraping the bottom of the Pitt

Bob Pitt is in a terrible bind. He can’t decide if Islam is a race or a religion. Actually, it’s no bind at all - Bob doesn’t really mind because his preposterous Islamophobia-Watch website decides to interpret it whichever way suits them at the time.

They define “Islamophobia” as “Anti-Muslim Racism”. Fair enough. There are many on the far-right, notably the racist BNP who will use religion as a proxy for race. We know when the BNP fuehrer-wannabes go on about Jews and Muslims that they’re not accentuating theological differences. But to paint all opposition to religion as a form of racism is catching the dolphins in the metaphorical tuna nets.

The trouble is, if Islamophobia is racism, how do you account for people who were born into Middle Eastern Muslim families but who have turned their back on their faith?

For example: Mr Pitt denounces Homa Arjomand for “masquerading as a Muslim” and leading a sect (The Workers Communist Party of Iran) who are characterised by “fanatical Islamophobia.”

I’m sorry, what? Let’s unpack this. Ms Arjomand is Iranian and was born into a Muslim family. It is true, she has renounced her faith, and like most Communists, is entirely secular. So she is not “a Muslim” in the sense that she practices the faith. Except Pitt says Islam is a race. So which way does he want to play it? If one can’t be a secular Muslim (like one can be a secular Jew) then it is a religion. So Islamophobia can’t be racism, Bob Pitt. But, if on the other hand, one can be a Muslim without being religious, then Ms Arjomand cannot be “masquerading” either – and it still doesn’t make sense to say it is racism because presumably Ms Arjomand is the same race as her Muslim family!

Why is Bob Pitt so interested in Ms Arjoman’s religion? Well, she was one of the leaders of a campaign to halt the legal recognition of sharia courts in the Canadian province of Ontario that would have allowed religious courts to adjudicate in family matters – such as divorce, inheritance, child custody and the like. Women’s groups feared it would be both a toehold for political Islam and a danger to women’s rights.

Ms Arjomand, and her organisation of “women from Muslim families” have tasted life on the receiving end of fundamentalist Islamic misogyny. In a Canadian TV interview Ms Arjomand tells horrifying stories of persecution and execution under the mullah-regime in Iran. In fact, hundreds of thousands of political dissidents have been executed in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Is it any wonder Homa Arjomand and other Iranian activists are a little “phobic”. They have first-hand reason to be.

And if I may be indignant on their behalf for a second: how dare Bob Pitt, a white male living in London judge an Iranian political exile and question her bona fides and her right to criticise her own religion and culture?

Is this not what socialists in the West do, Bob? Aren’t our Middle Eastern comrades allowed to do that, or are only white western men allowed this privilege?

This is not the first time Pitt has smeared Iranian communists with racism charges.

Happily, through international mobilisation and campaigning, the Ontarians have decided not to go ahead. Sharia law has been stopped, Bob Pitt is vexed, puffed up and spitting Islamophobia charges from his ivory towers in London at the Iranian women below.

A scary fool who will doom us all

Okay, “a scary fool who will doom us all” may be an overstatement, but I really do begin to panic when people start pontificating that gay rights are “elite squabbles” and “moralistic grandstanding”.

Waxing lyrical in her column "The muscular liberals are marching into a dead end", The Guardian's Madeleine Bunting slobbers over a new book by “maverick thinker” Frank Furedi, it was all going swimmingly well – albeit in a sloppy cesspool of psychobabble and moral relativism - until it got to this:

His analysis of American politics is that the political elite (particularly the media) have seized on values as a form of cod politics. Put simply, instead of economics, same-sex marriage and abortion become the defining issues. It's a cod politics that suits the political elite because it gives them reasons for an argument and an audience (always important for an insatiable media).

The "clash of civilisations" could become Europe's cod politics. So an elite squabbles about Islam's take on gay rights and gender equality in a charade of moralistic grandstanding.


It’s nice to know that the struggle of women’s rights – of which Bunting herself is a beneficiary – and for my rights as a gay man are “elitist” and merely “grandstanding” and supposedly in the worst Lindsey German sense “shibboleths”.

Islam, at least as practiced by the likes of Qaradawi, has no take on gay rights or women’s rights in the sense that it is approaching the issues from a slightly different angle. Executing gays and mutilating women is not a trifling difference and a minor debate over details. It is fundamental to the secular, humanist – and indeed muscular – liberalism we must defend!

As Harry’s Place say in their posting on the subject:

We do need dialogue, but it would be much more helpful to this progress if flaccid liberals like Bunting hunted around for interlocutors from the Muslim world who spoke up for the rights of sexual minorities instead of defending a dialogue with scholars who call for rocks to be thrown at them until they die.

And. there is a lot to criticise in our culture – excessive consumerism, inhumane treatment of working people and economic migrants by corporations, disrespect for the environment, criminal treatment of animals, racism, arms dealing, you name it… but we have a civilisation where activists make progress – frustrating slow, with many setbacks, but progress nonetheless. And indeed, our culture allows such robust criticism and activism to take place. There is therefore no need to loathe our civilisation.

Bunting evidently does. The signs were there earlier. Bunting seems to have reinvented the proto-racist 18th century ideology of the Noble Savage for the 21st century – a product then of misplaced romanticism and so it is today.

Bunting declares:

How do British values look to an African? Perhaps they might see through our illusions quicker than we can, and see the brittle, episodic relationships which constitute many lonely lives; the disconnectedness whereby strangers live together as neighbours, colleagues, even friends and lovers, with little knowledge and less commitment to each other; our preoccupation with things; our ever more desperate dependence on stimulants from alcohol to porn.

First of all, what the hell is “an African”? It is a huge continent. Is Bunting really saying that culture and values are the same all over Africa? Is she saying that Africans no nothing of “brittle, episodic relationships”? I imagine she would say that perhaps they do now, but that’s due to overexposure to Western influences. Ah yes, the “Noble Savages”. And before colonialism, when African men could take multiple wives – as the Swazi king still does? Is that an antidote to “brittle, episodic relationships”? Or in Zulu culture where women went out to work in the fields while men chewed the fat in the kraal? Is that what she had in mind? Or when Dingaan did in his brother Shaka to take his crown (in the most Shakespearean way), was that the good neighbourliness she meant? Perhaps it was the imperialism of Shaka himself that she meant by “good neighbourliness”.

Of course there is good neighbourliness and community spirit in many African cultures, but they are no different to the same in smaller and rural communities anywhere in the world. What Bunting is mistaking as “Western” is actually the “Urban” – what she imagines to be “African” values are actually universal and will be found in most small communities. There is an African tradition of ubuntu (pronounced ‘ooh-boon-too’), but it is only an ideal, and no different to similar ideals found in other cultures. It is only people like Bunting who appear to fetishise other cultures that believe that an entire culture - indeed an entire continent - carries the same values in its heart.

Bunting says “Fatalism was once the charge levelled at peasants because they didn't believe they could transform their lives. Now it's our turn …” and later “Furthermore, this muscular liberal project is a dead end. It's a nostalgic grab for old certainties”.

Doesn’t she realise it is her fatalism and her uncertainty that she is transferring onto everyone else. She sees essential human rights struggles as “elite squabbles” and “moralistic grandstanding”. It is her wavering – if it catches on – that will doom us all. If such rights can be so easily dismissed, then we’re not looking at ‘The New Enlightenment’, as she irrationally supposes, but darkness.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Equality - Terminated!

So, the jubilation that justice was being done in granting California’s lesbian and gay couples the right to marry may be short lived, as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has announced he’ll use his power of veto to terminate the bill.

According to the BBC, State legislators voted on Tuesday to allow same-sex marriage in California, but the governor said the decision flew in the face of public opinion.

Excuse me?

Aren’t State legislators elected to office? Aren’t they ultimately responsible to the electorate?

When an action hero declares he’s the new law in town, that’s fantasy.

But when a governor decides to use his veto supposedly in the name of the public against the wishes of the elected legislators, that’s not “the will of the people”, that’s dictatorship!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Shooting the messenger

The Daily Express has flipped its lid with an insane call to ban the Al Jazeera TV channel, which is available in the UK on Sky Digital.

While there is almost certainly an argument to restrict individuals who preach hatred and violence, what’s the argument for banning the independent media simply because they give equal coverage to all sides?

Al Jazeera’s independent stance seems to have gotten it into trouble in the Middle East as frequently as in the West.

The BBC has two insightful articles on Al Jazeera, which provide a little background and perspective.

- Al-Jazeera's cash crisis
- Arab media go to war

In the first article, Al-Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout believes freedom of commercial speech will win out. He points out that much depends on the spread of liberal values and free speech in the region.

It all depends upon the ruling circle changing their attitude towards phenomenon like Al-Jazeera," Mr Ballout said.

"They have to start realising that people have different points of view and perhaps they should be allowed to express them.

"People who express dissent don't have to be enemies."

The Boston Phoenix newspaper agrees.

So while there is fear in the West that Al Jazeera’s characteristic frankness is a danger, it is a feeling shared by powers in the Middle East too. That should be a cause for comfort, not concern, shouldn’t it?

However, the chief reason the Daily Express has got itself in a knot is because of Al Jazeera’s decision to broadcast a video statement by Osama Bin Laden. The Telegraph takes up the story.

This, of course, follows the broadcast of a statement by one of the London suicide bombers. When I heard of the video’s existence, admittedly the first thing I did was pop along to Al Jazeera’s website to see if I could watch it. I couldn’t find it, but I later found the video on the BBC – presumably courtesy of Al Jazeera.

Which kinda proves my point. We want access to information. We want to know what people are saying and thinking – even Osama Bin Laden and his minions. The BBC recognises that as much as Al Jazeera. How we process information is up to us. We shouldn’t be shooting messengers.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Hang-ups about democratic reform

So the death penalty is back in Iraq. Three men convicted of murder where hanged in Baghdad yesterday, according to Arab News.

“It was a difficult decision because we are living in a democratic atmosphere,” said government spokesperson Laith Kubba. “This is the highest punishment taken against people who have conducted assassinations, and it aims at deterring criminals from going too far in their crimes.”

I can understand that in country plagued by unimaginable lawlessness, it might be tempting to go down the capital punishment road, but one really has to question the deterrent value of the death penalty when suicide bombing is not uncommon and death is all around.

Indeed, the death penalty isn’t likely to deter those inspired by clerics like Yusuf al-Qaradawi who asserts that suicide attacks in Iraq are a religious duty.

It worries me that this is just a foreshadowing of things to come. With the status given to Sharia Law in the draft Iraqi constitution, things are looking rather bleak.

What is certain is that whatever hopes might have be harboured for a liberal democracy to emerge in Iraq are fading fast.

As I’ve said before:

Strike One: No Ossama Bin Laden
Strike Two: No weapons of mass destruction found
Strike Three: Democratic reform down the toilet

Worst of all, the reintroduction of the death penalty was all about having the legal means to string up Saddam Hussein – if he’s found guilty of .. well, you know what.

So, Saddam has actually had the final word. In seeking to destroy him, the first step down the path to destroying any hope for a free country has been taken. My Iraqi friends fear that Iraq will be indistinguishable from Iran a year from now.

For other issues that make for some serious pessimism, check out The Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq.

It’s time to stop making excuses for both the occupying forces and the so-called resistance and to start supporting genuine democratic movements in Iraq.

George W Bush: Capitalism is a crime against humanity

I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it, so I dug out my dusty old edition of Samuelson & Nordhuas, which I haven’t looked at since I took a year of Economics at Uni in the late 1980s. (A year was more than enough: who wants to drag S&N’s tome around campus when Plato’s Republic and The Communist Manifesto was so much lighter?)

And there it was on page 45 of the 12th edition:

“Like a master using carrots and kicks to coax a donkey forward, the market system deals out profits and losses to get how, what and for whom decided.”

I read on. On page 60 they say:

“As people’s desires and needs change… as supplies of natural resources and other productive factors change, the marketplace registers changes in the prices and quantities sold of commodities… There exists a system or rationing by prices.”

Even as a 19 year old living on the largesse of my parents, I understood this well enough to pass “General Economics’. So why does George W Bush not understand this? Isn’t he supposed to be a champion of the Free Market?

Would a champion of the free market say this:

"I think there ought to be zero tolerance of people breaking the law during an emergency such as this, whether it be looting, or price gouging at the gasoline pump, or taking advantage of charitable giving, or insurance fraud.”

See the full report on the BBC.

Essentially what he is saying is that capitalism is a crime against humanity, because he describes the very market mechanisms natural to the capitalists system – and which come most emphatically into play during a humanitarian crisis as “breaking the law” – in other words, a crime!

He continued:

"But... it's very important for the citizens in all affected areas to take personal responsibility and assume a civic sense of responsibility, so that the situation doesn't get out of hand, so people don't exploit the vulnerable."

Isn’t selling a commodity you own for the maximum price people are prepared to pay the American way?

Who will put this to Mr Bush? Why has he turned his back on the Free Market™ economy? Has be become a pinko commie liberal? Is the textbook too heavy to schlep around?
Or has he recognised on an intuitive level what social democrats have always known:

The test of a system is how well it stands up in a crisis. Is capitalism able cope in New Orleans and respond to the challenge?

Mr Bush doesn’t seem to think so.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Al-Qaida claims London bombing

I bought a copy of Private Eye to read on the train this evening and was interested to see a letter by a reader criticising The Eye’s review of Adam Curtis’s “The Power of Nightmares” aired by the BBC.

The reader took them to task, lecturing thus:

“[D]ismissal of Adam Curtis’s ‘The Power of Nightmares’ looks increasingly specious. Whereas a month ago the talk was of ‘terror masterminds’ and ‘international networks’ now it seems the bombers were acting on nothing more than their own warped initiative.”

A comforting thought. So where did Al Qaida get the video taped statement of one of the suicide bombers responsible for the London Underground bombings from?

See the video here.

"Words have no impact on you, therefore we will talk to you in a language you understand. .. I and thousands like have forsaken everything for what we believe," said suicide bomber Muhammad Siddique Khan in the video shown by Aljazeera.

According to the report on Aljazeera:

“In the tape, Khan did not claim responsibility for the 7 July 7 attack in the name of al-Qaida but he called bin Ladin, his No 2 Ayman al-Zawahri, and al-Qaida in Iraq leader Musab al-Zarqawi as ‘today's heroes’ and hailed ‘martyrs’ who had given their lives in defence of Islam.”

However, a follow-up story on the channel declared:

Al-Qaida claims London bombing

The Aljazeera story also states that:“Al-Qaida's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, also appeared on the video on Thursday, promising similar attacks in the future.”

Zawahiri then promised further attacks, describing the UK as "enemy territory"

Associated Press has more, as does the BBC.

I suspect that further videos from the other suicide bombers will now start surfacing. I found it remarkable that, supposedly, none were left behind. People don’t make grand gestures (like blowing themselves up on crowded trains) without leaving something for posterity. I also suspect that this will be bad for the group that failed. If puts the kibosh on the idea that these were uncoordinated self-starter cells. If I were Scotland Yard, I’d start looking for their tapes.

UPDATE: What's really bothering me is the inclusion of "gassing" on his list of grievances. Now, the only regime I know of which has actually gassed Muslims is Saddam's. In fact, he - as a secular dictator - committed all the other atrocities against Muslims in the region as well. Why no suicide bombs to bring him down? In fact how come the Iraqis are only being suicide bombed now? How come 1000 average religious Muslims in Iraq died in a stampede to escape - not British soldiers, but suicide bombers - just like Muhammad Siddique Khan!

Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent, has a very good commentary on this man-made disaster – which includes a roll call of other outrages inflicted by insurgents too often characterised as “the resistance”.

UPDATE: The Observer has written an in-depth analysis of Khan’s video tape.

Dumb idea of the week #2

Dumb idea of the week #2: Insult your customers.

E4’s new advertising campaign on the London Underground has an advert which says:

“Big shiny movies into dinky little home”

(Or words to that effect) It then goes on to list all the movie nights (including Friday) on channel E4.

Now why on earth would an advertiser send this message to potential customers:

“You’re a loser who lives in a cramped little hole with nothing better to do – including on a Friday night – than to stay in and watch a TV movie,  which, incidentally, will rub in your face how bright and big the world is in contrast to your pathetic existence.”

Isn’t that the message?

At least the escalator advert of was simply the victim of bad timing. How could their ad agency have known that the week they released their “Why not have airline food for lunch?” campaign, one of the biggest airline food providers would launch industrial action that saw chaotic scenes at Heathrow, followed by allegations in The Times that the same company’s food was infested with E.coli germs.